5 Science-Backed Ways to Smile More and Stress Less
By Elizabeth Anne Scott
Happiness and stress relief tend to go hand-in-hand. As a stress management expert for About.com and author of 8 Keys to Stress Management, I know quite a bit about stress management as well as what leads to happiness, so I know a lot about what the research says on the topic. The following are ways to smile more often and relieve stress at the same time.
We all know by now that meditation carries many benefits for stress management and inner peace. There are specific forms of meditation that bring additional benefits, however, and the loving-kindness meditation is one of them! This meditation involves visualizing yourself and others surrounded by peace and love (it may sound a little odd at first, but you get used to it). The extra peace-and-love component leads to greater feelings of social connectedness and even more of a tendency to build relationships—something that is strongly linked to health, happiness, and longevity.
Other benefits include the experience of a wide range of positive emotions, a greater level of self-acceptance and physical health, a greater sense of life satisfaction, and even a reduction in depressive symptoms. Loving-kindness meditation is simple to learn, and can leave you with feelings of happiness and serenity. It’s definitely worth learning! (Read more about loving-kindness meditation here. http://stress.about.com/od/meditation/fl/Research-and-Loving-Kindness-Meditation.htm )
Writing about what you’re grateful for in life can benefit you in a few different ways. First, it shifts your focus away from what is stressing or depressing you, and helps you to zero in not only on things that may make you smile, but on things that remind you of all the resources you have available to you, which can also be an antidote to stress. When you write regularly in a gratitude journal, you tend to get into the habit of seeking out things for which to be grateful, knowing you’ll be writing about it later, anyway.
One of my personal favorite things about gratitude journaling, however, is the fact that regular gratitude journaling produces a written record of all the great things that have happened in life over the weeks and months. (I still read back over my gratitude journals from high school!) There are a few different ways to make gratitude journaling part of your life; you can read about them here. http://stress.about.com/od/positiveattitude/ht/gratitude_journ.htm
Find The Joke
Sometimes there is humor all around us and we’re too stressed to see it. Other times you have to really work at shifting focus, but there are humorous ‘nuggets’ buried in many of life’s challenging situations. The idea is to work at maintaining a sense of humor when times get tough–or at any time, really. Studies show that laughter really does boost one’s health in several ways: list ways here. So taking a step back and having a good laugh when you feel more likely to cry can really give your mood a boost. This is sometimes easier said than done, but with practice, it can come naturally.
Focus on the humor in life when things are going well: ‘like’ humor-focused pages on Facebook and visit funny websites; maintain a close friendship with at least one person who consistently makes you laugh; even enjoying comedy re-runs can do the trick. If you bring more laughter into your life when you don’t need it, you’ll find it easier to shift into that mode of thinking when you’re feeling more stressed by life. Read more about the benefits of laughter here. http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/laughter.htm
When All Else Fails, Use Chocolate!
In reasonable doses, chocolate can be good for you as well as delicious, and it can give you a quick emotional lift as well. You can use it in a chocolate meditation or savor it in its many forms, and go from there. Research shows that a small lift in mood can lead to larger and more lasting gains: we tend to react more positively and build our resources to a greater extent when we are in a better mood, so you really can take a small boost and bootstrap it to more mood boosts in the future. What a tasty way to banish stress! (Find out how, specifically, you can use chocolate for stress relief. http://stress.about.com/od/frequentlyaskedquestions/f/dark_chocolate.htm )
Just Do It!
–smile, I mean. Did you know that a forced smile actually does make you feel happier, leading to more ‘real’ smiles? (And, of course, real smiles lead to stress relief.) It’s true: in a study where researchers asked subjects to force a smile, it was found that they did experience a lift in mood.
The cynics among us may think the lift was due to whatever it was the people might have thought of to make themselves want to smile; don’t worry if this popped into your mind—it popped into the researchers’ minds, too. They also asked subjects to hold a stick between their teeth, thereby forcing a smile-like expression, and found that they experienced emotional lifts with these ‘forced’ smiles as well!
So while you may find it more comfortable to simply conjure a fake smile rather than holding a pencil between your teeth, whatever method you use to create the initial smile-like expression, you’ll find that you want to keep it going, and you’ll feel happier as a result. How’s that for a reason to smile! For more reasons to smile, see this resource on how to be happy. http://stress.about.com/od/lowstresslifestyle/ss/happy.htm
Today’s Guest Post is from Elizabeth Scott, M.S.
About.com Stress Expert
Author of 8 Keys to Stress Management